Travels & Trips

Nairobi to Kivu (East Africa loop – part 1)

Y’all know the itch when there’s a route you want to try out?

What if it’s 1150km from home? When I rode to Rwanda in July, I missed seeing a small corner of Uganda, that I had heard so much about: The Kabale Kisoro twisties. πŸ–€πŸ’›β€οΈπŸ–€πŸ’›β€οΈ

There is also a very specific spot I wanted to go swim at near Moshi in Tanzania: Kikuletwa Springs. And a mountain to hike that a flower is named after that I remember from my childhood.

In short: East Africa was calling.

I acquired (and then lowered) a pre-loved KTM 390adv just a few weeks before Christmas. The new girl’s logbook came through last minute, so out we were!

A 3-week trip through 4 countries covering over 4,600 km – which I’ll share with you in 3 parts:

Part 1: Nairobi to Lake Kivu. Glances at Lake Bunyonyo, the Impenetrable Forest and a bunch of hair needle turns made me forget the rough Kisumu and Kampala Xmas traffic πŸ˜Žβ˜ΊοΈπŸ’―
Sunset at Lake Kivu should be on everyone’s bucket list πŸ’™πŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ’š

Part 2: Kivu to Kili. Exploring beautiful roads with friends. Plus New Years in Kigali and a few bike repairs on the roadside

Part 3: Usambara Mountains to Diani and back to Nairobi. Hiking, swimming and relaxing!

Route looks fun, right?

Now here’s part 1!

PS: A detailed explanation of the border crossing procedure and requirements can be found in an earlier article here.

Part 1: Nairobi to Lake Kivu (3.5 days)

Maybe leaving Nairobi on Friday 23rd December at noon isn’t such a brilliant idea. But well.
I set out westwards from Limuru down the Mai Mahiu route and aim to sleep in Busia.

All packed! What could possibly go wrong?

After circumventing some bad traffic down the escarpment, I head towards Narok and Sotik: Sweet empty roads! Some rains to bless the journey!

Just before Ahero, I find some mad traffic.

After kms of tight lane splitting, things get no better.

When the rain starts and some kadudu car gets stuck in front of me up a muddy hill, I decide to take a break.

The locals welcome me home and explain that I’m witnessing the Annual Migration – “they only visit once a year”.

I have dinner at the petrol station. The jam moves by 15 metres in those 90 minutes.

As night falls, I decide to just look for where to sleep. Magic! The petrol station has some rooms – with running water! And that’s how I only manage 320km today and sleep in Ahero πŸ™‚

Pin location of the petrol station with rooms.

Day 2

I’m up at 6am with a goal to sleep in Mbarara in Southern Uganda – some 600km away. But I find the same jam outside my window!

With day light, I’m able to navigate around the traffic easier.

Once past Kisumu town, roads are empty and I’m finally able to twist the throttle. When I rode here in July with Havana, I used my 125cc bike. I’ll one day write about this bike upgrade. Right now I enjoy averaging 100 km/h as opposed to 75 on empty roads – saves time and feels comfortable and safe!

After a triple banana breakfast in Luanda, I find looong queues at Busia border crossing. I’m not the only person trying to get to Uganda this Christmas!

It’s already 11:30am by the time I leave the Ugandan side towards Kampala. I stop for a late lunch at Java in Jinja, and it’s 3:20pm when I get to the Nile bridge in Jinja. I still know the route to the old bridge off-head and take some forbidden pics of the forbidden new bridge.

Riding through Mabira Forest Reserve, I witness a police pick-up car chasing down boda bodas carrying firewood that was evidently illegally logged from the forest. As one boda falls on the roadside at high speed, I wonder how the maths of poverty, climate change and conservation will work out over the next years.

Approaching Mukono the traffic gets really tight. It is indeed the 24th December, and people are travelling for Christmas! I’m already tired of lane splitting, going slow and tip toeing on the tall(er), heavy bike!

From Kireka I take the bypass, which is blissfully empty. What a spirited ride, with captivating views across the many hills of Kampala!

Once the bypass ends, the jam and the chaos starts again. I’m taking lessons in lane splitting from the bodas – we think bodas in Kenya do risky stunts, but please go see for yourself in Uganda!

Before long, the sun sets and I stop for pics at a petrol station. The askari approaches me and tells me I’m not allowed to take photos of the petrol station, nor my bike on the sidwalk next to the petrol station. So many beautiful things to experience in the Pearl of Africa – just don’t let such issues dampen your mood!

For safety I decide against pushing onwards to Masaka. I pull up at a hotel with good Google Maps ratings just after Kampala. It’s Christmas and they are offering massage and steam bath. Why not?

353km today!

Day 3 – Finally Open Roads!

Good morning!
My goal is to ride the Kisoro twisties, then sleep in Kisoro, at the DRC border in Southwestern Uganda – which is 460km away.

I agree with myself over breakfast we’ll be minimizing photo stops.

At the Equator sign I have a very pleasant conversation with a Muslim family. It’s 25th December and I ask them where they’re travelling for the holiday. Big blunder. I’m informed that they are not on holiday because it’s Christmas and they’re not Christians. Semantics across cultures are always fascinating!

South the Equator, the road gets pretty empty. The rumble strips are just too many and at some point I have a sharp pain in my lower pelvis. I realized that the KTMs suspensions are great but maybe not great enough to protect my inner organs from being violently shaken, when lazily sitting on the bike. Henceforth I stand and bend at the rumble strips.

EDIT: A reader reached out and asked about this. So let me say a bit more: On this and earlier offroad-rides I’ve experienced random (i.e. not cycle related) cramps and even light bleeding when throttling over corrugations or bumpy patches repeatedly. Men may or may not experience this, because well, their organs in that area are different and any blood from light blood vessel tears may not necessarily come out (or would it?)

I’m really not the expert here, but I was taught at Offroad Adventures that the best way of avoiding riding related damage in organs (kidney, ovary, spine etc) is taking the following riding position: Bending forward (hinging forward, really) at the hip, therefore completely disconnecting the upper body from the rattling and shaking that the bike and lower body go through. Looks less cool than standing upright on your GS but gives you much better control of the bike, too (centre of gravity, elbows out, and all that). Happy to learn what others have experienced – leave a comment or reach out!

Before long I’m in Mbarara and take the Bypass towards Kabale.

It’s very pretty and I seem to have forgotten the issue of photo stops.

I’m just about to enter the twisties where we had our unfortunate accident half a year ago, when it starts raining heavily and I stop.

As I buy some water and chat with a shopkeeper and his daughter chilling under their roof, a local boda passes by with his christmas drink. It’s a kind of silly but very peaceful moment. I think of my friend who’s still recovering from his injuries he sustained near here. I also think about how unquenchable the thirst of adventure is.

The Kabale twisties are just so beautiful, despite the rain!

The trip counter shows 385km when I stop in Kabale for some samosas. I’m VERY excited about the route to Kisoro down the escarpment.

But first the road passes through beautiful hills, quiet villages and allows beautiful glances across Lake Bunyonyo

Oh boy! So pretty! We’re getting closer to the DRC and I pass a friendly military stop. And then I get to some steep hair pin turns.

I spot a cone in the distance, which turns out to be Muhabura Vulcano at the border with Rwanda. I’m in Gorilla territory now!

I get to Kisoro around 7pm, and Google Maps takes me through an adventurous rough road to my destination.

Dinner takes two hours to prepare, so I get to edit a helmet cam video. Enjoy a few twisty kms from this evening on this video link!

465km done today!

Day 4

Today I’ll enter Rwanda and ride along Lake Kivu. It’s only 180km from here to my friend’s place!

So first I want to explore Kisoro town! I also need to get some UGX from a bank because I ran out of cash due to spending an extra night in Uganda.

There’s quite a number of children and adults asking for money on the streets. We’re just a few kms and a (closed) border away from the DRC, where rebel groups are turning peoples’ lives into hell and making them flee their homes and land.

Being stared at and followed by people under the influence of alcohol makes me enjoy the walk through Kisoro town less and I head back to the hotel. I meet a Ugandan rider who’s attending to his bike and who’s planning to cross to Rwanda today, too. Around noon I head towards the border, very sure he’ll catch up with me.

Can you see these rumble strips? Nuts!

It’s a swift 15 minute twisty ride to the border town Kyanika – these corners are troublesome to trucks, as evidenced!

The border crossing at Cyanika takes much longer than expected. The Ugandan side is cleared in 5 minutes, but the Rwandan customs official takes at least 75 minutes to type my details into his system. More than enough time for the Honda NC 750 to catch up!

On entering Rwanda, we are welcomed by five speed cameras in quick succession. As he’s headed to Kigali, we part ways at the next major junction, and I have around 100km left for the day.

Once at the Gisenyi junction, I recognize different spots along the route and start missing my riding buddy Havana! Other than some brief drizzle, it’s beautiful, twisty riding along empty roads and relaxed villages.

The beautiful sight of Lake Kivu in the distance!

The speed limit of 60 is trickier to keep with the KTM than it was last time with the Spirit, y’all!

Entering my pal’s town Karongi with the last rays of sun!

Just in time for a breathtaking sunset over Lake Kivu!

And a huge fish for dinner πŸ™‚

And here’s the best part of the trip: One of Havana’s BIG HUGS!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, everyone! Wasn’t 2022 epic?

Continue to Part 2: Kivu to Kili. My first time riding in Tanzania!

Meanwhile: Leave a comment!

PS: Sorry for the adverts. Ignore them. One day we’ll upgrade to the paid version of this blog!




8 replies on “Nairobi to Kivu (East Africa loop – part 1)”

Beautiful read, enjoyed the entire trip as if I was there with you.
I love it❀️.

Beautiful read. Would be great to read about a comparison of the experience of the 390adv with your previous bike in terms of fuel consumption, comfort, maintainability etc

Many your writings serve as a bucket list of places I will be visiting soon. Thank you for sharing and giving such great details and info.

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